In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Contemporary Indigenous Social and Political Thought

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews on Indigenous Peoples Today
  • Indigenous Intellectuals in Latin America

Latin American Studies Contemporary Indigenous Social and Political Thought
Juan Carlos Grijalva
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0245


The contemporary continental emergence of a significant number of indigenous intellectuals who have been trained in the academic fields of social sciences (history, anthropology, sociology, linguistics, law, education, etc.) and have continued to be engaged with the social struggles of their ethnic communities of origin is a major sociocultural phenomenon not so well known in Latin America. Beginning in the 1960s, but with a stronger sociopolitical visibility in the 1980s and 1990s, indigenous intellectuals’ production of knowledge has become the backbone of many indigenous movements and proposals in the continent. Just like the booming appearance of modern indigenous literary writers (see Oxford Bibliographies article in Latin American Studies “Indigenous Voices in Literature”), the contemporary rise of indigenous intellectuals has reconceptualized indigenous communitarian worldviews and contributed to the study of their own social realities from their specific needs, cultural perspectives, and native languages. Indigenous intellectuals and scholars have flourished in the early 21st century, transforming knowledge and academic discourses into tools of indigenous cultural self-recognition; criticism of neocolonial forms of subordination and exploitation; and new conceptual ways of understanding history, democracy, communal life, political participation, cultural representation, and our human relationship with nature (Mother Earth). The purpose of this bibliographical essay is to offer an interdisciplinary and continental comprehensive view about these critical reflections, research studies, reports, interviews, essays, testimonies, manifests, discourses, and other conceptual contributions of Latin American indigenous intellectuals and communitarian leaders from the 1960s to the present. I have limited this vast and complex intellectual production to three fundamental indigenous debates: first, the criticism against neocolonialism, racism, and discrimination; second, self-defense of indigenous human rights and pluricultural laws; and, third, the development of judicial systems to protect the rights of Mother Earth—all of which lead to constructing new societies based on universal principles of ethnic diversity, respect for social equality and reciprocity, and living together in harmony. There are many other areas of indigenous sociopolitical production that are not considered here. That is why this study is a modest and preliminary tribute to a long and much more complex indigenous intellectual production that emerges based on exclusion, discrimination, and other forms of social inequality still suffered by many indigenous peoples in Latin America. This essay, thematically organized, provides an inclusive selection of a very heterogeneous spectrum of contemporary Latin American indigenous intellectuals, academics, activists and communitarian leaders, in conjuction with others who have been inspired or influenced by them. The purpose here then is to visibilize these contemporary indigenous authors, thinkers, and activists, even if their ideas, studies, and social reflections can be related to precolonial or colonial times. The strong presence of social leaders such as Berta Cáceres in Honduras, Isildo Beldenegro in Mexico, or José Tendetza in Ecuador, and many many others—some of whom have been killed, tortured, and criminalized— cannot be separated from the concepts and critical studies produced by indigenous intellectuals. I want to thank Agustín Grijalva and Maria Warren for their invaluable help.

General Overviews on Indigenous Peoples Today

New research studies and continental reports are addressing the current situation, major problems, and challenges of indigenous populations in Latin America. The World Bank 2015 and The Indigenous World 2018 provide continental reports on indigenous peoples across the Americas; Bengoa 2000, Cruz 2010, Del Popolo 2017, López García and Estévez 2009, De la Ribera 2012, and Stavenhagen 2010 analyze the contemporary emergence of indigenous peoples in Latin America, offering different social, historical, and political perspectives. Other studies focus their attention on specific regions and countries. Centro Bartolome de las Casas 2007 compares the situations of indigenous peoples in the Andean region, while Dos Santos Luciano 2006 explores their important presence in Brazil.

  • Bengoa, José. La emergencia indígena en América Latina. Santiago de Chile: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000.

    In this book, José Bengoa offers a historical and anthropological view on the emergence of indigenous peoples in Latin America, enriching an indispensable theoretical and political discussion for those interested in social science studies.

  • Centro Bartolome de las Casas. Pueblos indígenas: Referencias andinas para el debate. Cuzco, Peru: Centro de Estudios Regionales Andinos Bartolome de las Casas, CBC, 2007.

    Gathers a selection of articles that discusses the democratic participation of indigenous peoples in the municipal spaces of three Andean countries: Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru.

  • Cruz, Alberto, ed. Pueblos originarios en América: Guía introductoria de su situación. Pamplona-Iruña, Spain: Aldea Alternativa Desarrollo, 2010.

    This book seeks to inform and explain the situation of native peoples or Indian nationalities in the American continent, from Canada to Argentina, and from the perspective of collective ownership of the land.

  • De la Ribera, Rolando, ed. Abya Yala: Una visión indígena. Mexico D.F.: Prensa Latina, Agencia Informativa Latinoamericana, 2012.

    In this book, twenty-five journalists and news correspondents from Prensa Latina describe the history, social struggles and aspirations of Latin American indigenous communities, making a contribution to the diffusion of knowledge on native peoples’ ancestral cultures and values. Prologue by Evo Morales Ayma.

  • Del Popolo, Fabiana, ed. Los pueblos indígenas en América (Abya Yala): Desafíos para la igualdad en la diversidad. Santiago de Chile: CEPAL, 2017.

    This study proposes to understand that the path toward indigenous self-determination has been built from the reconstitution and strengthening of indigenous peoples’ ancestral institutions. Also available online.

  • Dos Santos Luciano, Gersen José. O índio brasileiro: O que você precisa saber sobre os povos indígenas no Brasil. Coleção Educação para Todos. Brasília, Brazil: Ministério da Educação, Secretaria de Educação Continuada, Organização das Nações Unidas para a Educação, a Ciência e a Cultura, Representação no Brasil, 2006.

    Dos Santos Luciano’s book seeks to contribute to a renewed understanding of the sociocultural diversities of the Brazilian indigenous peoples, questioning discriminatory conceptions still existing about them. The author is a Baniwa Indian from Brazil.

  • Jacquelin-Andersen, Pamela, ed. The Indigenous World 2018. Copenhagen: The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, IWGIA, 2018.

    The purpose of this continental report is to give a comprehensive overview of the developments of indigenous peoples around the world, including North, Central, and South American regions. This compilation is the result of a collaborative effort between indigenous and nonindigenous activists and scholars who voluntarily shared their valuable insights and analysis.

  • López García, Julián, and Manuel Gutiérrez Estévez, eds. América indígena ante el siglo XXI. Madrid: Fundación Carolina, 2009.

    This book is the result of an unusual practice: a series of gatherings with indigenous senators and congressmen organized by Fundación Carolina since 2005; other works from gatherings with indigenous women who discussed indigenous rights are also included.

  • Rodríguez, Nemesio J, and Stefano Varese, eds. El pensamiento indígena contemporáneo en América Latina. Mexico City, Mexico: Sep. Dirección General de Educación Indígena, 1981.

    An international overview of contemporary indigenous thought in Latin America, including countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.

  • Stavenhagen, Rodolfo. Los pueblos originarios: El debate necesario. Buenos Aires, Argentina: CTA Ediciones; CLACSO: Instituto de Estudios y Formación de la CTA, 2010.

    For Stavenhagen, the significance of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is not only to strengthen human rights in general, or to rethink the relationships between indigenous peoples and nation states, but also to fight against the myths of the so-called “Indian problem,” which have been around for centuries.

  • The World Bank. Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century: The First Decade. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2015.

    This report seeks to offer a brief, preliminary glance at the state of indigenous peoples in Latin America at the end of the first decade of the millennium. The report is based on microdata extracted from censuses in sixteen countries and household surveys in nine countries.

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